If the "city of love" ever inspired cafés for coffee lovers, this local concept could be it.
For those who can’t make it to Paris for a café au lait or pain au chocolat, CommonWealth Coffeehouse & Bakery can fill that void, especially since owners José Ramon Campos and Jorge Herrero are in the midst of expanding the barely 3-year-old concept to a total of nine locations in San Antonio by the end of the year.
CommonWealth opens its sixth location at the Weston Centre at 112 E. Pecan St. on Friday, occupying nearly 1,600 square feet of indoor space on the lobby floor of the downtown office tower.
"The Weston Centre is very commercial, but we've maintained the CommonWealth's ambiance and homey aspect," Campos told the Rivard Report. "Being the tallest office tower in the urban core, it focuses on the revitalization of downtown, and it is really exciting for us to be part of that."
The new location's grand opening is set for Friday, Feb. 9.
A mere week ago, Campos and Herrero celebrated the grand opening of their new location at Hemisfair, as announced in the fall of 2016 at Yanaguana Garden's one-year anniversary, Phase 1 of the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation’s plan for the former world’s fair site.
The CommonWealth's concept is that of an independent coffeehouse and bakery with European flair. Its original location is situated in a former cottage just off Broadway Street and offers seating under giant oak trees on a cozy patio, indoors at marble-top bistro tables, or in a sunny backyard garden alongside raised plant beds and a henhouse.
On any given day, customers come and go, from sunup to sundown, for Cuvée-brand coffees, artisanal French pastries, and a place to dine, work, meet and study – perhaps unaware that the first of now six locations had a rocky start.
Herrero purchased and renovated the dilapidated property that is nestled between a car wash and a residence on Davis Court, intending to open in August 2014 to coincide with the start of the fall semester at nearby University of the Incarnate Word. But two neighbors filed complaints; the City discovered it had not, in fact, zoned the property for commercial enterprise as was advertised, and then-District 2 Councilman Keith Toney pressed City Council to deny a rezoning request.
But with half a million dollars invested in the project, Herrero and Campos didn’t give up. The zoning vote was eventually overturned with the help of Toney's successor, now former Councilman Alan Warrick, and CommonWealth opened in January 2015.
“When we opened, we were busy from day one,” Campos said. "Our Hemisfair location mimics the our flagship store – It's an 1880s house with a chicken coup and a garden where we grow our own greens. Given the issues we had [in 2014], it's kind of ironic that we now rent from the City at Hemisfair."
Born in Mexico City, Campos grew up in San Antonio, attending Antonian College Prep and later Southern Methodist University as a political science, economics, and finance major. For some time, he wasn’t sure he would pass his required French language classes at SMU.
Then he spent a semester in Nantes, France, and voila! He graduated in 2012 with flying colors and embarked on a career that took him as far as the U.S. Embassy in Jordan and as near as San Francisco. Back in San Antonio, he went to work for Herrero Properties as a business consultant and helped import French flavors and atmosphere to CommonWealth.
The café’s pastry chefs, who start their day at 4 a.m., hail from France, as does the baking chocolate they use. Both the espresso and the 88 percent butter-fat butter that makes CommonWealth's croissants so flaky come from Italy. Some of the coffee beans are from Central America, and the floor tiles at the Davis Court location are imported from Spain.
But the produce, honey, and jams are all locally sourced from area farms, Campos said. The eggs are, too, since the four plump red hens who live in the Alamo Heights backyard don’t fully supply the demand for fresh-laid eggs.
Campos oversees operations at CommonWealth and provides opportunities for students at UIW and Trinity University – a steady source of customers – who cut their teeth on marketing plans for CommonWealth and play live music or exhibit art and design work in the café. CommonWealth also supports area charitable organizations such as the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind and the Martinez Street Women’s Center.
Campos is personally passionate about his work with nonprofits supporting the local immigrant community. CommonWealth may be Franco-inspired, but it’s also home for 15 full- and part-time employees who migrated from places like Serbia, Croatia, Nicaragua, India, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.
“We’re all immigrants, that’s the fact,” Campos said. “I just feel we’ve been successful and now we need to give back. It’s the littlest of ways [in which] we can contribute to the success of our city. The U.S. is doing fantastic. You can talk about all the challenges we have. To me, no one has it worse than someone who has to put their child on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea.”
In the flagship store's dining area, a giant wall map of the world has locations pinned by customers from all over the world.
“I love that it’s super diverse here,” Campos said. “You see couples, young people, older people, families, a lot of kids, moms. We’ve got quilting and reading groups. We’ve got a lot of young professionals, professors, students. We started from nothing here.”
Campos helped develop the five additional CommonWealth cafés and kiosks that opened throughout the city this year – the two locations downtown and three in area Baptist Hospitals. Three more are in the works, Campos said, set to open by the end of 2018.
“It’s great for the city,” he said of the growing number of coffee establishments in San Antonio. “It’s about being unique in the competitive world we live in. We have a third-generation baker from France. I don’t know anyone else in the city who has that.”
This article was originally published on March 21, 2017. Production Editor Hanna Oberhofer contributed to this report.